School of St. Mary wins national Blue Ribbon
School of St. Mary was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the Department of Education for 2012. A ceremony to celebrate the award was held at the school Nov. 29. | Stacia Timonere~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 6, 2012 3:06PM
LAKE FOREST — The School of St. Mary has received the 2012 Blue Ribbon Award, a prestigious national honor given by the U.S. Department of Education.
Of the 269 recipients selected in 2012, only 50 are private schools, Principal Venette Biancalana said.
The private elementary school in Lake Forest previously received the award in 1989. Biancalana said the honor is no less significant this time around.
According to its current director, Aba Kumi, The National Blue Ribbon School Program was the brainchild of the second Secretary of Education, Terrel H. Bell. He established the program in 1982 with the goal of bringing public attention to the best schools in the country and also to encourage communication and the sharing of best practices among schools.
At the Nov. 29 daytime ceremony to celebrate the award, Biancalana stressed that winning doesn’t mean resting on one’s laurels.
“Wining an award doesn’t mean you don’t have to do anything to get better,” she said.
Students speakers said the award was one of many life lessons they learned at St. Mary’s.
A representative from every grade spoke about their experiences at the school and what made it special to them. Student Council President Lauren Romanchek set the tone and her sentiments were echoed by every speaker.
“To me, St. Mary’s isn’t just a school,” she said. “It’s home.”
Those comments did not surprise Biancalana.
“Our staff works to get to know students and their families on a personal level,” she said.
It’s clear that this approach makes a big difference. All of the student speakers at the ceremony referenced their amazing teachers. The choir also sang a special thank you song.
“Any principal will tell you that a school is only as good as its teachers and we’re blessed to have wonderful ones,” Biancalana said.
The feeling is mutual, according to 8th-grade Language Arts teacher Mary Pat Fox. Fox has been at St. Mary’s since 1986, her entire teaching career thus far.
“This is a fabulous work environment,” she said. “The level of dedication on everyone’s part is amazing.”
Fox also attributed St. Mary’s success to a collaborative environment where teachers are always sharing ideas and an administrative team that is supportive of teachers trying new things and bringing their own learning and passion to the classroom.
Most of all, Fox agreed that St. Mary’s is more than just a school.
“Our shared values and faith bind us together. We are a community,” she said.